Looking After Your Heart

Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer. According to NHS Choices, an average of 200 people—that’s one every seven minutes—die of the condition each day

Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when blood supply to your heart is reduced because of narrowed or blocked arteries. The condition is largely caused by an accumulation of factors: smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and a lack of exercise are the main culprits. While some risk factors are tied to lifestyle choices, there are some we simply can’t control; these are a family history of heart disease, our ethnic background, age and gender. As we get older we are more prone to suffering from CHD, but an individual’s risk is also heightened if they are a male, a member of a family with a history of heart disease or from a south Asian or African-Caribbean background. Having said that, from quitting smoking to physical exercise, there are various things we can all do to safeguard our health—read on for our handy guide to a happy heart.  

Quit for good

Not only is smoking linked to all sorts of cancers, it can also have an extremely negative impact on your heart—quitting is the best thing you can do for your overall health. According to NHS Choices, a year after giving up smoking, your risk of a heart attack falls to less than half of that of a regular smoker.

Get moving

Physical inactivity is damaging—both to our heart and our mind. Aim to do around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. This could be a 30-minute brisk walk, cycle or run five days a week.

Eat the rainbow

You should eat five—or more—portions of different fruits and vegetables every day. These are an excellent source of essential vitamins and nutrients vital to a balanced diet. Add fresh fruit to your morning yoghurt and include chopped veggies to your pastas and curries for a quick fix. 

Banish saturated fats

Choose leaner cuts of meat, like chicken and turkey, to reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume. Stay away from processed meats and opt for lower fat dairy products when possible. 

More fibre

Eating more fibre dramatically reduces an individual’s risk of heart disease—you should aim for around 30 grams a day. Wholemeal bread, oats, bran, wholegrain cereal, fruit and potatoes (with their skin on) are all great sources of fibre. 

Don’t add salt

In order to avoid high blood pressure, add less salt to your cooking and refrain from using it at the table. Adults should consume less than six grams of salt a day; check food labels, especially when buying ready-made meals. 

Up your fish intake

Eat fish at least two times a week. This should include oily fish such as anchovies, mackerel or salmon. Fish is a great source of omega 3 fats, which are known to protect against heart disease. 

Watch your drink

Try keep to the NHS-recommended daily alcohol limits. Men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week; it’s also recommended to spread the drinking over a few days. This will reduce the risk of CVD as well as obesity. 

Health following a heart attack

If you have had a heart attack, the recovery period can take several months. During this time, you’ll receive help and support from nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians, pharmacists and exercise specialists to help you get your health back on track. This process—called cardiac rehabilitation—will start in hospital. In addition to restoring your physical fitness, the process will also aim to reduce your risk of another heart attack. Take small steps when returning to work and doing everyday activities such as driving. Seek help from a mental health specialist if you feel like you may be depressed—heart attacks can be extremely traumatic.

Heart attack warning signs:

Severe chest pain—as well as pain in other parts of the body—is one of the biggest signs of an ensuing heart attack; sufferers will feel pressure and tightness in their chest. Other major symptoms include dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, feelings of anxiety, nausea and coughing or wheezing. If you suspect the symptoms of a heart attack, call 999 immediately

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